Israel reinstituted its blockade of the Gaza Strip today after a brief respite to let humanitarian aid pass through on Tuesday, United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes said today, describing the situation as “desperate” and “unacceptable.”
No fuel, humanitarian supplies or commercial commodities were allowed into Gaza today, according to the Office of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO).
Mr. Holmes – who is also Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs – told journalists in Geneva that the closure was seen as collective punishment. Half the population of Gaza was under 15 and were being held hostage by the situation.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon telephoned Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert yesterday to urge him to facilitate the freer movement of urgently needed humanitarian supplies and of UN personnel into Gaza. Mr. Olmert denounced the continuing rocket fire into Israel from Gaza, although he agreed to look seriously into the urgent matter.
Starting tomorrow, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) will have to suspend cash assistance to some 98,000 of the poorest people in Gaza due to the lack of Israeli shekel bank notes in banks there.
The agency also warned that it is facing “a grave and imminent crisis” and must receive additional pledges in the first quarter of 2009 if it is to continue assisting the 4.6 million people in its five field operations.
UNRWA Commissioner General Karen AbuZayd told donors, host governments and non-governmental organization (NGO) partners that according to present projections its core services will suffer a deficit of more than $87 million by then, leading to an overall shortfall of $160 million when combined with unfunded projects on hold from previous years.
“This will bring UNRWA closer to financial crisis than it has ever been,” she said today at the agency’s annual meeting in Amman, Jordan, which heard updates from the directors for the five field operations – Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza.